Thursday, June 30, 2011
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Here's a photo of the great man himself:
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Monday, June 27, 2011
Hirsch, Rosenbloom reveals to us, was driven by an unquenchable ambition to emulate Maimonides, to assume Maimonides's mantle, to become the Maimonides of the modern era (pp. 126, 398). What are the facts underlying this psychoanalysis? Hirsch consciously or subconsciously selected titles and pen names that cannot be explained unless we presuppose this innermost desire to become a second Maimonides. To take only one example out of many: "The Hebrew title of Hirsch's . . . Nineteen Letters . . . - Igrot Tzafon (Letters to the North) - parallels Maimonides's Iggeret Teman (Letter to the South). It suggests that Ben Uziel - Hirsch's pen name - hoped to resolve the religious dilemma for the Jews of the North, a euphemism for Germany in Haskalah literature, just as Ben Maimon - Maimonides - had helped to solve the religious problem of the Jews of the South approximately seven centuries earlier" (p. 125). Very good! Only that there is one little mishap, caused by the annoying habit of Hirsch's to omit supplying vowel points for his Hebrew titles. Hirsch never called his book Igrot Tzafon but Igrot Tzafun (Letters of the Concealed One, i.e., one who conceals his name),11 and it is really a pity to make Rosenbloom's psychoanalytical edifice come tumbling down over just one tiny vowel dot. It would have been pointless to dwell on Rosenbloom's jeux d'esprit at any length had he at least had the good sense to confine them to a footnote. But no! he roams on for pages, including plenty of learned notes (see especially p. 428 n. 41 !), with his pseudonymystic pilpul - "mountains suspended on a hair" which on closer examination turns out to be non-existent.
11. See M. Cohen, loc. cit., Hirsch's letter to Z.H. May, 8th September 1835."
Now this noble pride, which no Jew feels any more--or if he feels it he tries to hide it so as not to be derided for it and shamed by all--the author of the Letters of the North dares to feel it and dares to make a public profession of it. In my eyes this makes him supremely worthy of being loved and admired; that is, he is supremely loved and admired by me.If I could believe that these letters could make an equal or similar lasting impression on the souls of a good number of contemporaries, and especially young people . . . I would content myself with this deserved tribute of praise . . .But finding the author's principles too incompatible with the spirit of the age to be able to hope for any influence by them on the thought and actions of our contemporaries, I will make no scruple of telling you, since you have asked me, what I think of those principles.The fundamental principles of the Letters of the North are two: one concerns the destiny of Man, the other, that of the Israelite.
Hirsch says the destiny of man is to serve God, but very few actually do. This would seem to indicate a failing on God's part. But even assuming that serving God is merely a high goal that relatively few attain, what does it actually mean? God does not need us to serve him. If it means to obey God, every individual will think that he is obeying God merely by being true to one's own nature and personality [a very 21st century attitude!]. If it means specifically to obey God's revealed commandments, Shadal agrees that this is a worthy goal, but since Revelation is not a natural phenomenon but a supernatural one, we can't speak of man's "natural" destiny to serve God. Besides, such Revelation is not recognized or believed in by everyone, so obedience to it can't be regarded as a universal goal. Shadal goes on to say that he will reserve his thoughts about the "destiny of the Israelite" for another letter (but I wonder if he ever wrote it).
Thursday, June 23, 2011
‘If I would have been Chief Rabbi the Jacobs Affair would never have happened’
Lord Jakobovits to Paul Shaviv, reported on On The Main Line June 2011 (link)
There are two primary aspects to understanding the Jacobs Affair. The first concerns whether it demonstrates a theological movement in Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy. I have argued elsewhere that it does not.
But there is another aspect, and that is to what extent the Affair was due to communal mismanagement. Any analysis of the Jacobs Affair must come to the conclusion that it was handled extremely badly, from start to finish, by the Orthodox establishment. I suggest this is, for the most part, what Lord Jakobovits meant when he said the Affair would never have happened had he been Chief Rabbi at the time.
To begin at the beginning: In 1957 Louis Jacobs published We have reason to believe in which he argued that despite the truth (a controversial term, but what Jacobs believed) of the Documentary Hypothesis, the Torah remained Divine and halakha remained binding. The book did not attract much attention and no action was taken against Jacobs. Had be been disciplined or sacked in 1957 there would have been some fuss, but nothing on the scale of what followed.
In 1959 Jacobs was appointed Moral Tutor at Jews’ College, of which Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie was the President. This appointment was made despite the public nature of Jacobs’ views, probably in order to ease out the then Principal Isidore Epstein. I do not understand how this could have happened given Brodie’s stated views on the subject of revelation. My best guess is that it was engineered by Jacobs’ supporters in order to prevent him going to the JTS and in order to move Anglo-Jewry towards Conservative Judaism. I suspect that Brodie took his eye off the ball, or was distracted by his wish to replace Epstein.
Had Jacobs not been appointed, and remained at the New West End Synagogue, there would have been no Affair and no controversy. He would have continued very much as he had since 1957 and without attracting much attention. Theology has never been of great interest to English Jews. His scholarly reputation would have risen, but most of his output at this time was not controversial. He may have remained in London, or gone to the United States at some point, either to the JTS or to a Conservative synagogue, as Chaim Pearl, his successor at the New West End did after him. But who has ever heard of the Pearl Affair?
The London Beth Din seemed unconcerned with Jacobs’ initial appointed at Jews’ College. Most of the dayanim had very little time for the College and refused to have anything to do with it. For some reason, though, when it looked in 1961 as though Jacobs’ would be made Principal they took a stand, or at any rate Dayan Grunfeld did. He brought a copy of We have reason to believe to Brodie with all the heresies underlined in red. When Jacobs refused to recant, Brodie barred the appointment because he could not allow the seminary for Anglo-Orthodox ministers to be headed by someone with openly non-Orthodox views. The rest of the Jacobs Affair, until he founded the New London Synagogue in 1964, was a prolonged exercise in shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted.
The implication was that Jacobs was fit to be Moral Tutor but not Principal, which was always a difficult argument, and made the Chief Rabbi look inconsistent, if not foolish. Clearly Brodie could not appoint Jacobs Principal, but the matter should never have been allowed to get that far. Brodie disappearing to Australia in the middle of the Affair and not making firm decisions on dealing with it also did not help matters.
Worse was to follow. When in 1962 Jacobs wished to return to the New West End Brodie vetoed his appointment. At this point Brodie had no choice, but it seemed extraordinary that Jacobs could serve as the Minister of the synagogue quite unmolested even after the publication of We have reason to believe but could not do so now. The dayanim wanted to let Jacobs return. They considered the New West End a lost cause where Jacobs could do little harm. Brodie realised that as the Affair rolled on, positions became more entrenched and statements more hard-line the stakes grew higher. Given a rabbinical position in the United Synagogue (US) Jacobs would be used as the centre of a campaign to turn the US towards Conservative Judaism. It would be argued that if he could be a rabbi in the US he could be Chief Rabbi, and as Chief Rabbi he would introduce a new theological position. That is why, as Lord Jacobovits also said, ‘if Jacobs had got away with it’ he would have made the US a Conservative body, and why Jakobovits supported Brodie’s stance.
The New West End wanted Jacobs back and dug in its heels, which led to the unpleasantness of the US deposing its Honorary Officers, installing new ones in a form of direct rule, banning Jacobs from wearing canonicals (!), preaching and occupying the Minister’s seat. Eventually it resulted in the foundation of a new synagogue. This congregation met initially in the hall of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, Lauderdale Road, until Brodie pressured the Haham, Solomon Gaon, to move it on. When the congregation was firmly established in its own premises Brodie refused to recognised it as a Jewish congregation so it could perform marriages according to English law.
It was all immensely unseemly and harmful. When he became Chief Rabbi in 1967 Jakobovits launched an urgent damage limitation exercise. He recognised the New London Synagogue for the purposes of marriage solemnisation and probably felt that had he been in charge from the start the problems need never have arisen. He could have nipped the Affair in the bud in 1957 by disciplining Jacobs then, or by containing Jacobs at the New West End, or by encouraging him to find a more suitable berth outside the United Synagogue. Chimen Abramsky told me that his father (i.e., R. Chazkel Abramsky – S.) also said that had he still been in London the Jacobs Affair would never have happened, perhaps for the same reasons.
Interestingly, when he became Chief Rabbi Jakobovits offered Jacobs a deal. The New London could join the United Synagogue as long as Jacobs accepted the halakhic authority of the London Beth Din. Crucially, Jacobs would not be required to toe an Orthodox theological line. Jakobovits was proposing, in effect, the creation of a grossgemeinde on the German model, in which different synagogues, each with their own rabbi, liturgical practices and theologies, would exist within the same umbrella organisation and would all submit to Orthodox standards on matters of personal status such as conversion, marriage and divorce. Jakobovits father, Joel Jakobovits, had been a grossgemeinde Orthodox rabbi in Konigsberg and Berlin before becoming a dayan on the London Beth Din. When Jakobovits jnr. was appointed Chief Rabbi the dayanim were worried that he would try to introduce the grossgemeinde model to Britain. Had Jacobs accepted the offer he might have done so. Eventually the Reform and even Liberal movements could have been brought into some sort of pan-communal religious body. Alongside the prospect of Chief Rabbi Jacobs, this is one of the great counterfactuals of Anglo-Jewish religious history.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Regarding the pronunciation of this name [YHVH] there is no doubt that all through the days of the First Temple and also in the early days of the Second Temple this name was pronounced as it is written, for we see that there are many theoporic names formed from this word (i.e, YHV- or -YHV) during that period. For example, Yehonatan, Yehoyada, Yehoshaphat, Yehoram, Yehoachaz, Achazyahu, Chizkiyahu, Yeshayahu, Yirmiyahu, etc. Also, if they did not read it then why would they write it?
It seems that sometime during the Second Temple period the Sages ordained that one should not read it as it is written. Perhaps they did this because they saw that the people were transgressing the Third Commandment, taking God's name in vain. They decreed that the word connoting Lordship should be said instead (i.e., Adonay). We see evidence of this from the Greek translation ascribed to the 70 where the name YHVH is translated in each place as Κύριος. So too in the Latin Vulgate it is translated as Dominus. Similarly in what remains of the work of Origen called the Hexapla we see next to his Greek translation a column of Hebrew words transcribed with Greek letters. In each place where it is written YHWH we see Αδοναι.Similarly those who added the nekkudot to the Biblical text meant for us to pronounce it using the term denoting Lordship, for which we find four proofs:1) They treated the בג"ד כפ"ת letters following YHWH as hard (pointed with a dagesh), rather than soft. (He supplies three biblical texts illustrating this to be the case, which shows that even though the last vowel of the Tetrragrammaton is pointed -ah they meant for it to be pronounced -ay as in adonay.)2) They pointed the letters וכל"ב appearing before it (i.e., YHVH, meant to be pronounced adonay) with a patach and not a chirik (i.e., vadonay, ladonay, etc. This shows that the first vowel should be Ah-. Showing this is necessary because in truth YHVH is written with a sheva for the first vowel).3) They pointed a מ at the beginning with a tzéré rather than a chirik (i.e., méadonay, showing, again, that the first vowel should be Ah-).4) They did not point YHVH in the same way in every place. Sometimes they pointed it with the same vowels used in Elohim; this usage is found before and after the name of Lordship (adonay) is actually written in the text itself, either before or after YHVH (so as not to repeat the word adonay where it isn't written this way in the text, i.e., unlike places where YHVH is repeated twice in the text itself, when it is meant to be pronounced "adonay adonay"). They ordained that in this case YHVH is to be pronounced aloud as Elohim, which is indicated by the vowels. If their intention was otherwise, then they would not have had any reason for changing the pointing.Many have researched how the name is supposed to be pronounced as it is written, namely what are its actual vowels? Following what I have written , the consonants as they are written in most places (sheva-cholem-kometz) is actually the authentic vocalization. The reason is because the kometz of /yah/ (which we find at the end of theoporic names) at the start of a word is changed to sheva, such as in Yehonatan and the like. It seems to me that this was the intention of the pointers of the text by pointing the yud with a sheva. For if this was not what they had intended, but simply to point according to the name of Lordship (i.e., the vowels of adonay) then why wouldn't they have voweled the yud with a chataph patach in the same manner that they applied a chataph segol when it was meant to be pronounced /elohim/? Therefore I say that it is true that they wanted to show that it should be read /adonay/ but this pointing managed at the same time to preserve its actual pronunciation, which was known to them through tradition.
אין ניקוד נוברני דומה לניקוד שלנו ולא שניהם לניקוד ארץ ישראלThe Novernian [sic] pointing is not like ours, and both of them are not like the pointing of Eretz Yisrael."
Monday, June 20, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
"The teacher and students were bobbing their head like a tamarisk in the wilderness."
79. Al-Khazari: I should like to ask whether thou knowest the reason why Jews move to and fro when reading the Bible?80. The Rabbi: It is said that it is done in order to arouse natural heat. My personal belief is that it stands in connexion with the subject under discussion. As it often happened that many persons read at the same time, it was possible that ten or more read from one volume. This is the reason why our books are so large. Each of them was obliged to bend down in his turn in order to read a passage, and to turn back again. This resulted in a continual bending and sitting up, the book lying on the ground. This was one reason. Then it became a habit through constant seeing, observing and imitating, which is in man's nature. Other people read each out of his own book, either bringing it near to his eyes, or, if he pleased, bending down to it without inconveniencing his neighbour. There was, therefore, no necessity of bending and sitting up. We will now discuss the importance of the accents, the orthographic value of the seven principal vowel signs, the grammatical accuracy resulting from them as well as from the distinction between Qames, Patah, Sere and Segol.
We arose and went on our way, the sun becoming stronger and more oppressive. We saw some trees in the wilderness with water underneath, and we sat down in the shade of one of them. I asked him: How is it that of all peoples of the world, only the Jews sway to and fro when they study the Torah, a habit which seems to come natural to them, and they are unable to keep still? He replied: You have reminded me of a very deep idea which very few people know. He pondered for a moment and wept. Then he continued: Alas for mankind who go about like cattle without understanding. This thing alone is sufficient to distinguish the holy souls of Israel from the souls of heathen peoples. The souls of Israel have been hewn from the Holy Lamp, as is written, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord” (Prov. xx, 27). Now once this lamp has been kindled from the supernal Torah, the light upon it never ceases for an instant, like the flame of a wick which is never still for an instant. So when an Israelite has said one word of the Torah, a light is kindled and he cannot keep still but sways to and fro like the flame of a wick. But the souls of heathens are like the burning of stubble, which gives no flame, and therefore they keep still like wood burning without a flame.’ Said R. Jose: ‘That is a good explanation; happy am I to have heard this.’ (Soncino translation.)
Monday, June 13, 2011
I wished to get an insight into the sciences, not as they are veiled in fables, but in their natural light. I had already, though very imperfectly, learned to read German; but where was I to obtain German books in Lithuania? Fortunately for me I learned that the chief rabbi of a neighbouring town, who in his youth had lived for a while in Germany, and learned the German language there, and made himself in some measure acquainted with the sciences, continued still, though in secret, to work at the sciences, and had a fair library of German books.I resolved therefore to make a pilgrimage to S___, inorder to see the chief rabbi, and beg of him a few scientific books. I was tolerably accustomed to such journeys, and had gone once thirty miles [the English translator explains that this is equivalent to 150 English miles] on foot to see a Hebrew work of the tenth century on the Peripatetic philosophy. Without therefore troubling myself in the least about travelling expenses or means of conveyance, and without saying a word to my family on the subject, I set out upon the journey to this town in the middle of winter. As soon as I arrived at the place, I went to the chief rabbi, told him my desire, and begged him earnestly for assistance. He was not a little astonished; for, during the thirty one years which had passed since his return from Germany, not a single individual had ever made such a request. He promised to lend me some old German books. The most important among these were an old work on Optics, and Sturm's Physics.I could not sufficiently express my gratitude to this excellent chief rabbi; I pocketed the few books, and returned home in rapture. After I had studied these books thoroughly, my eyes were all at once opened. I believed that I had found a key to all the secrets of nature, as I now knew the origin of storms, of dew, of rain, and such phenomena. I looked down with pride on all others, who did not yet know these things, laughed at their prejudices and superstitions, and proposed to clear up their ideas on these subjects and to enlighten their understanding.
ואין שום רב או אב שמגיד לתלמידו או לבנו כל מה שבלבו ככמו אלה הענינים ותהי אמת נעדרת אבל אני נשבעתי שבספר בשמת לא אשא פנים לשום אדם ואגלה דעתי בכל דרוש ואם שגיתי ה הטוב יכפר בעדThere's no rabbi or father who tells his student or son all that is in his heart, so the complete truth is compromised. But I swear that in my book Bosmat I will hide nothing and reveal my views; if I make a mistake, God will atone for me.
First Hebrew translation of Euclid's Elements. With the three folding mathematical plates in facsimile, as usual, since orthodox readers, studying in hiding, used to tear them off lest they be accused of reading forbidden literature. Institutional stamps on title. Text unusually clean and crisp. Rare.